Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey looks to boost late-season run against Boston College on Thursday

Minutemen are 2-0-1 in their last three games

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(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff Writer

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Only three regular season games remain for the Massachusetts hockey team, the first of which may be its toughest test of all when Boston College comes to town on Thursday for a Hockey East Association matchup at the Mullins Center.

The Minutemen (13-16-2, 7-12-2 HEA) are coming off five days of rest heading into the Thursday night tilt, following a weekend of play that saw them go 2-0-1 against conference opponents.

UMass earned points in all three of those games and looks to keep that trend going against the Eagles (14-13-3, 14-5-0 HEA), out to secure as many as it can down the final stretch of games before playoffs.

In the first and only matchup between the two on Jan. 23 at Chestnut Hill, the Minutemen fell 2-1 at the hands of BC, plagued by a slow first period start and a combination of crippling factors. Regardless of the first-time results, UMass coach Greg Carvel believes Thursday will be different.

“When we played them last time we were a pretty tired team and they hadn’t played in ten days,” Carvel said. “Watching the game over, we checked pretty well, but there was an energy missing from the bench.

“We expect a different vibe coming out [Thursday],” he added. “We’ve played well here at home and hopefully we get a good crowd. Hopefully a bunch of factors will add up, and hopefully the guys are playing with more confidence now.”

The confidence that Carvel referred to has been crucial in the Minutemen’s recent turnaround following six straight losses, along with the elevated play of some of the guys that were unheard of in the season’s early goings.

“I’ve spoken about how we needed someone other than [John] Leonard and [Mitchell] Chaffee to score,” Carvel said. “The defenseman are starting to jump in on it, but we have to have it throughout the lineup.”

“The games we win are usually when our third and fourth lines get goals,” he added. “Like [Niko] Hildenbrand scored the goal against Lowell, and against BU, we had [Jack] Suter [and Griff Jeszka] score. When we get those guys scoring goals it helps a lot.”

Another significant confidence booster for UMass on the ice has been the resilient play of freshman Matt Murray in net.

Murray, named Hockey East Player of the Week for his 99 saves and .952 save percentage over the weekend, has seemingly returned to the level of play that granted him success in the early stages of the season.

According to Carvel, Murray will be getting his fourth consecutive start between the pipes on Thursday. “Most likely we will continue with [Murray],” he said.

Leonard, a freshman, was also on the receiving end of Hockey East recognition as Co-Rookie of the Week, spurred by his pair of goals and assists over the weekend.

For the Eagles, freshman standout Logan Hutsko will be a skater to keep an eye out for. Hutsko is the leading point-getter for BC, tallying 22 points through 30 games on 10 goals and 12 assists.

Graham McPhee is another forward that UMass defensemen will need to pay extra attention to, as the sophomore leads the Eagles in goals scored with 11 on the season.

Joseph Woll holds down the back-end for BC, bolstering a .905 save percentage over 23 games in net with a 11-10-2 record.

The Minutemen will need to break through Woll early in the game if they want to achieve their best chance of an upset win at home. UMass holds a record of 11-1-2 on the season when scoring the first goal of the game and is something that Carvel has been preaching as of late.

“We’ve made [scoring first] a focus,” he said. “The last three games we’ve been able to do so, and not surprisingly we have a pretty good record in the last three games. It used to be that we talked about the first five or 10 minutes and now we’ve kind of narrowed it down to the first goal and that’s a good focus for us.”

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_Liam Flaherty.

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